Islam is the religion of peace, tolerance, compassion, humanity and love. It demands from its followers to continuously learn and educate till the one is laid down into the grave. It also puts great stress that a believer should respect others religions and should know about them and their founders so that a believer can compare his religion with their religion. He can argue only that too in a decent manner if he has sound knowledge about the religion he wants to talk or write about. It also helps him to reach conclusions and adds to his knowledge. The book under review (Walking with Nanak) is about Nanak (the founder of Sikhism). The book is written by Haroon Khalid a Pakistani author and writer. He tries to walk along with Nanak all along in the book where Nanak once walks, stays and meets people of different religions especially in Pakistan where Guru Nanak was born and also laid to rest. The books also talks about the other Sikh gurus but in brief. The main focus of the book is on Nanak, his philosophy, teachings, the contemporary Pakistani society and religious tolerance and intolerance towards the minorities. The Sikh Muslim conflict of the past and how they live in coexistence with each other in contemporary Pakistan. The renovation of Sikh Gurudwars in Pakistan by Pakistani governments show the concern of religious tolerance which attracts large number of Sikh pilgrims worldwide to visit Pakistan and other places which paves the way for religious tourism and helps to develop the economy. In completing the book, the contribution of Iqbal Kaiser cannot be ruled out as he went along with Khalid to collect data and helped him the most in this project.
The teachings of Guru Nanak as claimed by the author are 75% similar to Islam as both religions believe in monotheism. Guru Nanak propagated the oneness of God and laid the foundations of Sikhism. The initial pages of book talks about the depleted conditions of the Sikh gurdwars in Pakistan which needs immediate renovation to preserve these as a sign of composite culture in the Islamic republic of Pakistan. It takes the reader to all the places where once Nanak lived or stayed. Nanak was born at a place called Rai Bhoi Di Talwindi in a Hindu family which is now known as Nankana Sahab in the year 1469 and breathed his last at Kartarpur Sahab Pakistan. There was a Muslim Fakir who often visits a Hindu temple where mother of Nanak prayed for child as she doesn’t have even after six years of marriage. It is said that it is the Muslim Fakir who prayed on behalf of Nanaks mother when he met her first time at the temple.
As we flip the pages of the book we found Haroon Khalid has shed light on Nanaks early life also. How Nanak started taking interest in spiritual philosophy and discussions with Sufis and ascetics. How Nanak once spends his father’s hard earned money to feed sadhus whom he met while on the way to start business. When Nanak returned empty handed his father (Mehta Kalu) slapped young Nanak which became an important event in Sikh history and is popularly known as Sacha Sauda (honest trade) in Sikhism.
Boota Singh with whom the author met while collecting material for the book told him that I never felt alone in a Muslim majority area. My Muslim neighbors protected me and my family at the time of partition and even we have the backing of army that once they announced in our village that this Sikh family be protected and looked after at any cost. From that day no one dared to look towards us with an evil eye.
There seems difference between Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh as Nanak lived a simple life and travelled far off places singing songs of love and tolerance while Guru Gobind lived his life like a sovereign who laid the foundations of Khalsa and at his command was a standing army whose weapons were procured through the offerings of devotees and raids upon neighboring villages as claimed by the author. Guru Gobind singh was found of literature and was adept in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit.
When Nanak and Bahi Mardana (Nanak born in Hindu family while Mardana in a Muslim family) travelled to Saidpur, there they found big havelis and temples, poor beggars begging outside of these temples and those beggars were not allowed to enter inside the premises of these temples as the priests have made the religion a business and they were selling it to the devotees. Mardana who was born into a Muslim family was considered untouchable by high caste Hindu Brahmans. Every day in evening Bahi Mardana pick up his Rabab and played it while Guru Nanak sing his poetry on the tunes of this Muslim bards rubab. This practice became a permanent daily feature and ritual of Sikh religion. At Sadipur Nanak told Lalo (a lower caste Hindu) that people like Malik Bhago thought that feeding few high caste hungry Brahmins will wash off his sins instead the truth and reality is that he feeds them out of the blood of hard-working people. To quote Nanak said:
These are ignoble among the noblest,
And pure among the despised,
The former shall though avoid,
And be the dust under the foot of the other.
The author also argues that many of the miracles which were associated with Nanak by his devotees were later invented as Nanak was against miracles as he spoke vehemently against miracles as we found it in his teachings and in this book also. The Gurus of Sikhs do some additions to the religion of Sikhism. Some practices of them decried by Guru Nanak.
The book also talks about the meeting between Guru Nanak and Sheikh Kamal. The questions of Kamal and the answers of Nanak. Kamal asked these questions on behalf of his master Sheikh Ibrahim. After listening to the answers Sheikh Ibrahim went along with Sheikh Kamal to meet Nanak in person. It was after this meeting that the poetry of Baba Farid found palce in Guru Granth Sahab and were preserved for posterity.
Once while sitting under a tree, Nanak asked Mardana to buy truth for two paisa and falsehood for two paisa. Bahi Mardana went all over the city in search for what Guru Nanak has told him to buy. Some shopkeepers making fun of Bahi Mardana and shooed him away. Finally after a lot of search he met a vendor who sells him what he was searching for. But the vendor himself didn’t comply for what he sold Mardana. Nanak told Mardana on vendor’s death.
Friendship with a money-monger,
Is false and leads to falsehood;
You knew not O Maula,
Where death would overtake you.
Hamza Ghous a Muslim saint is a forgotten one even shopkeeper outside the entrance of his grave didn’t know who was buried inside. The historical books and online records are silent about Hamza Ghous as claimed by the author, the only available references we found it in Sikh records but they have presented him as antagonist and Nanak as hero.
When Auruangzab asked Guru Har Rai to present himself in the court and explain his position. Garu Har Rai sent his son Ram Rai to Aurangzab . Ram Rai alerted some of the words in a poem of Guru Nanak before the emperor to escape his wrath. Hari Rai sacked and disowns him as his son and declared that any Sikh who associates with him would also be excommunicated from the religion of Sikhism.
Karachi one of the oldest and largest cities of Pakistan whose old name was Kolachi. This city is located near to the Arabian ocean. A temple there was visited by Nanak once according to Sikh traditions but the claim rejected by Hindus living there in Karachi. The militarization of Sikh community by Guru Har Gobind gave a new face to Sikh religion whose foundations were laid on peace by Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak was against idol worship as is evident in this book. How Nanak behaved inside that temple when and Pandit and other devotees standup for arati. Nanak feels sad when he saw people poured liters of pure milk over shiv ling. He saw this milk wasted and found its way outside into drains and why not this milk be given to the poor and beggars outside of these temples. He challenged the priest and their conversation is worth to be read. Haroon Khalid travelled for this book found the ill practices at the shrines of Pakistan where sufis and fakirs drain the hard earned money out of the pockets of those who visit these shrines and they too have made the religion of Islam as business for their own benefit and to feed their own bellies.
One of the best practices in Sikhism is the lungar practice where anyone can come and eat irrespective of caste, creed, color region and religion. This practice is also considered one of the best democratic practices world over but the author has not written about the lungur in detail. It also seems that author was against partition as it is clear in this book while reasons better known to Khalid why either he has done it intentionally or has not well aware about past events and historical facts. At many places he shows the Pakistani society as intolerant towards its minorities .The book is published before the recent opening of Karatarpur sahab for Sikh pilgrims both from India and other parts of the world. It seems this book had helped in renovating some Sikh Gurudwars especially Kartarpur sahab. This is helping over developing cordial relationship between the two countries and gives peace a chance. I too wish to visit this place of Kartarpur sahab if allowed to visit to see the mega structure and eat lungar there with Sikh brothers.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Mubashir Iqbal Kitaba is PhD Research Scholar
and can be reached at [email protected]